People who inject heroin generally do it with a needle and syringe. Heroin is a powerful opioid drug that can be injected for rapid, euphoric effects.
Although heroin can also be snorted or smoked, the majority of people who use heroin—especially chronic heroin users—inject it.
Signs of heroin injection include:
- possessing syringes and needles
- having small baggies filled with white or brown powder
- missing spoons
- needle marks on the arms
- bruising around the injection site
Syringes can vary in their size, brand, and type.
What Do Heroin Syringes Look Like?
Syringes used to inject illicit drugs can vary in appearance. Syringes are small, plastic instruments that generally have needles attached for injection.
Not all syringes have permanently attached needles, although a needle is necessary to perform an injection.
These can look similar in appearance to instruments that are used to draw blood for routine medical tests.
Shooting Heroin: How Does It Work?
Heroin can be injected in its powder and solid (black tar heroin) forms. In order to inject heroin, however, the drug must be heated and liquified into an injectable form.
Heroin can be injected into:
- veins (intravenous)
- muscles (intramuscular)
- under the skin (“skin popping”)
The process of making heroin injectable is typically done with a spoon and some kind of heating source, such as a lighter or candle.
Once liquified, the liquid solution may be drawn into the syringe through a filtering material, such as a cotton ball or cigarette filter.
This can filter out impurities, which may clog the point of the syringe and have toxic effects on the body.
What Other Items Are Used To Shoot Heroin?
Injecting drug users may possess a wide range of drug paraphernalia. According to the National Harm Reduction Coalition, these supplies are sometimes referred to as “the works”.
People who shoot heroin intravenously, for instance, may create a makeshift tourniquet to “tie-off” their arm. This can prepare a vein for injection.
This can be done using:
- elastic bands
- long socks
Sharing injection equipment—including syringes, spoons, and needles—is ill-advised. Avoid the reuse of filters.
These are unsafe injection practices that can place injectors at increased risk for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C (HCV).
What Happens After Injecting Heroin?
Shooting heroin can cause a rush of euphoric effects, such as pleasure and relaxation, within seconds.
Injecting heroin may also cause:
- tiny pupils
- mental fogginess
- dry mouth
- flushed skin
- slowed breathing
- severe itching
People who regularly inject heroin may suffer bruising, scarring, and inflammation around the injection site. They may also need to inject heroin very frequently in order to avoid experiencing withdrawal.
Dangers Of Injecting Heroin With Syringes
Heroin is a powerful drug that can be dangerous when injected. Acute and chronic use of heroin can cause a range of harmful side effects on physical and mental health.
Side effects and health risks of injecting heroin can include:
- heroin dependence and addiction
- heroin overdose
- infectious diseases (e.g. HIV risk)
- collapsed veins
- severe depression
- damaged blood vessels
- heroin withdrawal
Injecting Heroin Has Higher Risk Of Overdose
Injection drug users are at high risk for experiencing overdose compared to those who snort or smoke heroin, although injection is the most common method of use.
Overdose can occur after taking too much heroin, or after taking heroin that’s been laced with other illicit drugs, such as fentanyl and methamphetamine.
Risk factors for overdose include:
- taking too much heroin
- drinking alcohol while shooting heroin
- shooting fentanyl-contaminated heroin
- shooting heroin after detox
One of the reasons injection has a higher risk for overdose is heroin’s short-lived effects. People who inject heroin may feel the need to shoot up again faster.
Naloxone, a life-saving opioid antagonist, can be administered quickly to reverse heroin overdose. Without treatment, an overdose can be deadly.
Injection Drug Use Increases Risk For Dependence And Addiction
Injecting heroin is common among people who have used heroin for a long period of time.
Chronic heroin use can lead to drug dependence and addiction, which can make it difficult for people to stop using heroin alone.
People who become dependent on heroin may need detox to help them get off heroin.
Entering a detox center for medically-assisted detox is the safest way to stop using heroin, and can provide treatment for withdrawal symptoms.
Finding Treatment For Heroin Abuse And Addiction
Substance use disorders can be life-shattering for those addicted and their loved ones. Overcoming an addiction to heroin is possible with substance abuse treatment.
Treatment for heroin addiction is offered in inpatient and outpatient rehab programs.
During rehab, people may receive individual counseling, medications for opioid use disorder, and other behavioral interventions to help them heal from the effects of their addiction.
Get Help For Heroin Addiction Today
If you or someone you know is injecting heroin, don’t wait to seek help. Call our helpline today to find a treatment program for heroin addiction near you.Article Sources
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Harm Reduction Coalition
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: NCBI